On My 50th High School Class Reunion

the-dead-alchemist_vedder_s

The Dead Alchemist
Elihu Vedder
Oils on canvas
23.23 x 16.93”
1868

From a letter to a 1st grade friend:

This is a reason why I am myself no good in a social situation. This is why I could not attend the reunion. I have no grace at all in a group of more than three. I was thinking back on St. Lawrence. Particularly at recess. I remember well how I found ways to not join in. I’d get way back on the basketball area against the fence and watch from there the class mingling here and there. Or I’d get close to the incinerator there at the left corner of the building and try not to be noticed. Later I discovered two group activities I was really good at. Kickball. And marbles. I was surprised at how good I was at placing my kicks perfectly according to how I saw the opposing team’s field of battle. I took it all in in a glance and might hold my kick back just between an opening I perceived in their defense. Or, most surprising of all, I could kick the ball all the way to the basketball area if I saw a “home run” was the solution and an actual possibility. It was both tactical and strategic skill I had discovered. Marbles was a different campaign, again though discovering a kind of natural ability in strategy and tactics. Here, it was more compact, or intimate a situation. It was I think only boys, although I can see myself trying to enlist a girl for I was always more comfortable around girls. And it would be one on one when it was your turn. There might be four or more around the circle, but I’d watch the little beauties – those colorful little spheres – and plan my attack when my turn came up. You wanted to aim for winning the big “shooters”, while along the way winning as many of the little ones as you could. As long as you kept hitting others’ marbles you stayed in the game, acquiring more and more marbles for your bag. I remember I’d got a lovely pink quartz shooter. It was large, seems it was around 3″ in diameter. It had tiny bubbles inside like a ball of frozen champagne. Oh, to lose that would have been disastrous! But I never did. It could roll over two or three or even more in one shot. But you see the concentration needed for both of these games. I was in a group but was focused both outward, and inward for my goals. Neither demanded argumentation or much even of talking to others. This was about the extent to which I would allow myself to socialize. Thinking on it now, I realize I’d known early on that being around others was extremely painful. What I had to do was endure. I stayed camouflaged, stayed hidden. And just watched. I heard them. I wasn’t deaf. I heard their ways. And then I’d go into a daydream. My daydreams were of solutions to problems I saw they were struggling with. I wanted to tell them of my solutions, but I knew how they would respond. The few times I took courage to say something, they’d hear me. I knew they did because they’d take my thoughts into discussion. And in short order my points were changed into the babbling language they were comfortable with and I was forgotten, as if I wasn’t there. That bothered me some, that I ended up ignored. It bothered me to be unceremoniously dismissed. Not so much a recognition as a “you’re crazy”, or “get out of here”. Just ignored. But I knew it was coming; the torture for me was going out there. But after, I would move back into my camouflaged position where they didn’t have to notice me. There, I imagined further solutions – to problems of my own, that they wouldn’t see. As you’ve seen, some of my art is of this latter form, solutions to matters that must remain with me alone, and unspoken out in that world. My choice of career as an artist is perfect for me. It’s a silent thing. I show, but do not speak. So I remain dumb. And it is being dumb that keeps me unseen, and untouchable. I’ve always been like this, both as an artist and in my personality. I know I won’t be seen – and I don’t want to be seen – it’s why I don’t publicize myself very much. I don’t use the more modern things: I don’t use Twitter or Pinterest or LinkedIn and so on. Nor do I have a cell phone. Just my little web site that sits there mostly unseen. I want my isolation. I want my obscurity. What has been of never ending fascination to me is the goodness in people that I’m granted it.

 

2 Comments

  1. Kitty McDowell October 6, 2016 5:20 pm Reply

    Bob
    I missed you Saturday. I had interest in talking to you-about your art. I’ve seen it in galleries.
    Sophomore year did you sit behind me in some class? I remember it that way, but not the class. We used to talk. I remember your ‘Elvis-esque’ grin. I found you very attractive, but I was a stumbling, bumbling blob-and terrified of the opposite sex and mostly of my feelings. (You know, girls couldn’t be temptresses)
    Many of our class were not at the reunion. Some because of distance, or apathy, or even reasons such as yours. (my cousin Joe, a no-show) I wasn’t surprised, but I WAS surprised at how many were there. 75 I think.
    Many have had long marriages (me 31 yrs), some have had many marriages.
    So now you know. You were missed.
    (& now you have my email-hahaha)

  2. bob October 14, 2016 9:30 am Reply

    Hello Kitty,

    Been too long. I remember your name, but need a face from those years to clinch my memory. Might be I was behind you in a class. The two I do recall are Latin class, but I sat right in front and right below Father Tracey’s perch where, during testing, if he noticed I was stuck, he’d lean over and give me signals for the correct answers. I hear he’s come down in favor over the years, but I liked that he drove a Corvette and was nice with girls, and enjoyed his drinks. That he and I had a close last name was, I think, why he treated me so well. There was a Literature class where maybe I sat behind you. In that class it happened that the girls, having known of my “Beatles” hair (disguised for CCs dress codes in a greasy combed style), urged me to shake it out and let it fall. It got some laughs. One day I came in and found a book left there by someone before us. I liked the cover so I kept it. It’s one of the few books I read in those days that was not required reading. I have read it many times since. It was Victor Hugo’s “Les Miserables”. And there was typing class. I was the only boy there, and one of my few A grade classes for my achievement of 80wpm. I remember few others. I was in Chemistry when the announcement of the assassination of Kennedy came over the speakers.
    I wonder what you and I would have talked about. (I’m not surprised that we did because I really got along with girls even though I was scared to death.) Do you have any idea? “‘Elvis-esque’ grin”(?!) Hmm, I never knew. Linda is pleased to hear it, and agrees. Again, I wish I had a photo of you for I bet you were one I found attractive – and unapproachable. Unapproachable because, like you I was too terrified of the opposite sex to be a tempter.
    75 of us were here? That would be pretty much a success, wouldn’t it, even though many didn’t make it?
    31 years you’ve been married. This is good to hear. And congratulations! It’s a good thing, isn’t it, to go through so many years with one you love so much?
    Well, thank you Kitty for saying I was missed. I’m sorry I missed you and the others. I’m surprised my blog entry found you – I don’t know how that is for I rarely post here. But I’m happy you stopped by, and that now I have your email address. I hope when I drop you a line that I can get that photo of you to remind me better of that crazy time and those enchanting people.
    Take good care,
    Bob

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